Just Zoë, Just Life

Monthly Archives: June 2012

It is our wedding anniversary in the coming week. Next to my baptism,  our wedding day was the happiest day of my life. I’m supposed to say the birth of my children, aren’t I? But actually that is dishonest. I don’t remember my first child’s birth as happy, exactly, it was more overwhelming than anything else. Coerced into marriage, coerced into giving up contraception, finding out I was pregnant within a month of marriage, giving birth at just 22 years old… none of these things added up to it ranking among the happiest days of my life, however much I subsequently came to love my son.

But after all those years of quiet despair, believing that divorce was wrong and that therefore, somehow, being abused and beaten was God’s will (what else does one conclude when one hears the absolute ‘God hates divorce’ with nothing more?), I remarried. God hates divorce. Good, because God is love and divorce does not happen when there is love. God hates lying, too, and judging others, and failing to do something for someone else who needed it because it wasn’t convenient for me, and having murderous thoughts when that person pulls in front of me at reckless speed on the motorway…

I have never been happier than the day I married Frank. He’s my hero: God-given, God-blessed, my best friend, my lover, my confidant. Thank you, Frank.

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I am not Catholic. I’m not quite sure what I am instead, having been through URC, Methodist, Anglican and Salvation Army in my youth, and as an adult ending up with the Baptists. In the UK, the Baptists are about as loosely defined a group as you’re likely to find. From my experience, British Baptists agree that the bible and the holy spirit should take precedence over tradition and church teaching, and that one should be baptised into the faith when one is old enough to make that choice (as opposed to infant baptism). Also from experience, Baptists are solid enough in their faith that they can agree to disagree.

Like I say, I’m not Catholic. And I’m a bit of a spiritual mutt. So when I found myself this morning at a Catholic mass I was keen to learn both the differences and the similarities of the eucharist.

Tink and Squidge attend a Catholic primary school. Last year, Tink was desperately unhappy at school. It was a bog-standard secular state primary school, where no one seemed to see the same child that I saw. The teacher continually made Tink feel as if she was nothing but a ‘naughty’ girl. She would daily come out of school with a heavy heart (which in turn broke my heart!). I tried homeschooling, but this did not work either.

One thing led to another and in answer to our prayers, this God-centred school accepted her. A few months later a space appeared in Key Stage 1 (which is almost impossible… the woman on the phone from School Admissions was gobsmacked… God is good!) and Squidge joined her sister. Both girls are now happy and thriving. Tink has made up for the struggles she previously experienced and has moved from low-average to being a consistently high achiever, like I always knew she could.

This morning, Tink had volunteered to do a reading during the mass, so I went along. I have only ever been to a Catholic service once before, and that was a funeral. This morning’s service wasn’t my cup of tea, but there were parts that I really enjoyed and could relate to. I learned a lot and am grateful for the experience.

The words that the congregation were supposed to say were spoken so quickly that it seemed to lose any sense of contemplation and reflection, instead sounding like a well-rehearsed ritual, though the words themselves had a real spiritual resonance and depth. The songs were typical school songs, so I can’t really say much about those. The pace slowed a little when it came to the prayers surrounding the bread and the wine, which allowed me to reflect on what I was hearing. I confess I loved the ringing of the bell to symbolise the presence of the holy spirit (I have experienced this before in High Anglican situations). There is something mystical (i.e. beyond human understanding) about the nature of the divine made flesh, and the physical representation of this in the bread and the wine. While I can’t go so far as to say I believe in transubstantiation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transubstantiation), I do believe there is a spiritual ‘transubstantiation’ that occurs with the presence of the holy spirit and the fulfilment of Jesus’ instruction to ‘do this in remembrance of me’. It is a legacy that has lasted, in various forms, from Jesus’ own lips – surrounded by his dearest friends – to the present day, to you and me.

Catholics do not allow non-Catholics to take the bread and the wine, and even when you are Catholic, only the officiating priest drinks the wine, so I was told that I could receive a blessing. The priest raised his hand to my forehead and spoke a few words of prayer.

Afterwards we all said the Lord’s prayer, and I was struck by how this one prayer is something all Christians have in common. It was a wonderful sense of God’s supremacy: despite all our differences, Jesus left us with this legacy which binds us together. All denominations are created by people, not by God. We are all part of his one, holy catholic (small ‘c’) church, by His grace.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, talks about being all things to all people. I believe that anything less, including insisting that only our own way is the right way, is not Christ-like and does not honour God. It is a very tricky thing to do, but worth it, if I am to grow more like Jesus, who loved all for who they are (he knows how screwed up you are – and he loves you anyway).

If I can walk into a church service which is totally alien in structure, and be mindful and respectful of those around me, and open to what the holy spirit can say to me despite the differences in words and music, if I can accept that it’s ok to disagree on doctrinal matters, providing we agree that Christ is the one and only saviour, etc.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_versions_of_the_Nicene_Creed_in_current_use), maybe I too can be all things to all people, and help establish God’s Kingdom on earth, which is what all Christians seek when we pray the words of the Lord’s prayer. Together, we have a strength of purpose that can change the whole world. Apart, squabbling over differences, all we do is show the world how petty we can be…

‘Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.’

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV UK)


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I read this on Special Needs Jungle the other day. It is so shocking there should be a national outcry. I share it here so that you may share too. If enough hearts are broken, maybe the people in power will DO something.

Special Needs Jungle

Today I’m bringing you a post about what I think is the most important issue in our society today – children in care, or “Looked After Children”.

The post is the edited text from a presentation by child psychologist, Charlie Mead at the Towards a Positive Future SEN conference a week ago. He spoke powerfully about the plight of these ‘Looked After Children’ or, as it would appear, not very well looked after children. Charlie works in many children’s homes in the Midlands and South West of England  and if you want to know about how he sees the state of provision of children in care – our most vulnerable members of society – please read on, share it, reblog it, quote it on your own blogs, anything you can do to help highlight it.

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Children are being ignored, abandoned and abused within the care system.  The tension between  available…

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‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, worship His holy name.

Sing like never before, O my soul,

Worship your holy name.

The sun comes up; it’s a new day dawning.

It’s time to sing your song again.

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me,

Let me be singing when the evening comes.’

I’ve tried to find a version on youtube of the song that has been on my lips all day, but actually I don’t think any of them do this song the justice it deserves. It has a lovely Celtic lilt and would be fabulous with a tin whistle, a violin and a pure, female Irish-style voice (no offence to Matt Redman, the male composer). The versions on youtube are all too rock-like, IMHO. I’d like to have a go, but… let’s leave that thought there. Anyway, the words are beautiful and I want to share them with you.

I became part of a Christian pastoral visiting team today. I will visit the residents of the care home once a week, and continue helping lead a ‘church’ service once a month. One of the things the elderly residents love is singing the old, beloved hymns. For some who are locked into a dream-like dementia, often with shadows that have no name, our songs bring light and life and happiness. Their smiles have blessed me more than I thought possible. And the idea that something as simple as singing praise to God could bring such pleasure is truly humbling.

Gives a whole new meaning to the words above, doesn’t it?

Heavenly Father, let me be singing when the evening comes.


Yesterday I went along for the first time to a quilting group. I have not done anything like it for more than twenty years. The last time was when I made a ‘flying geese’ pattern cushion in school. My triangles didn’t match, despite my best efforts, though the pretty fabrics made up for my lack of skill.

I tentatively chose a pattern, ‘building blocks’, with the help of a half a dozen ladies. They lent me a quilting book and magazine, and then gave me paper, lent me a pencil, scissors, needles, thread and even fabric so that I could make a start. I was told I didn’t have to pay as it was my first time. I enjoyed a cup of tea and was handed a raffle ticket.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“We have a little raffle each week.” My friend said.

“But I haven’t paid.” I protested.

“That’s ok. We don’t ask people to pay on their first time.”

After tacking one diamond to paper, and making a start on a second, someone yelled out a number. I realised it was my ticket.

“Oh, it’s me!” I cried.

I won the raffle.

On my way home, I reflected how this was a mirror image of life with Christ – and his promise of life in abundance. I come totally unprepared, yet am given all I need – and I’m the winner, even though I didn’t buy a ticket. I didn’t deserve either of those things, yet they were given gladly and freely. Life in abundance indeed.

‘The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).’ John 10:10 (Amplified Bible)